Corporate citizenship can advance only when efforts are guided by informed and dedicated leaders—and leadership happens not just at the top of organizations, but from every seat.
That’s why, every year, corporate citizenship professionals from around the world come to the Center’s Corporate Citizenship Leadership Academy, an intensive trimester-long program that aims to strengthen leaders so that they can more effectively engage and influence their colleagues, improve organizational alignment, and broaden support, ultimately increasing long-term business and social value for their companies.
To kick off the program, participants—experienced business people with broad portfolios of responsibilities—travel to the Boston College campus for a week of interactive learning with faculty, business leaders, and peers. When they return to their organizations, they are better prepared to attack the particular issues that stall the progress of their efforts, with continued support and guidance from Center experts.
The Academy provides a unique opportunity to foster peer networks and encourage engagement with other players in the corporate citizenship field. Participants forge relationships that continue to benefit them throughout their careers, and serve as a conduit for continual innovation, insight, feedback, and support. Different industries face different challenges and opportunities, though leaders everywhere know the strain of carving out recognition and support for ESG programs amidst the demands of day-to-day business. During their studies, the Leadership Academy’s Class of 2014 learned quickly that, in order to develop new initiatives or broaden the reach of successful programs, it is imperative to lead with authority and secure executive buy-in.
“Gaining buy-in from top leaders is critical to advancing strategy,” said Kenya Haupt, director of corporate responsibility at PwC. “Finding ways to align what we are doing in the corporate responsibility space to other areas within the organization and articulating the rationale for why it is important to them and to their group’s strategy can make the difference between remaining stagnant and moving the needle.”
In order to acquire support for programs and initiatives, as well as subsequent financial and human capital, Haupt employed methods she learned at the Academy to pitch ideas for consideration and implementation more effectively. She utilized the concept of social proof—a theory arguing that individuals take action when they see that others are—to expand PwC’s youth education efforts by sponsoring screenings of Girl Rising, a powerful film that chronicles the efforts of nine girls from around the world as they bravely face obstacles preventing them from continuing their education.
“By harnessing the power of two of the principles—commitment and consistency, and social proof— we were able to really drive participation in our screenings,” said Haupt. “Now, we’ve teamed with 10x10, the producers and owners of the Girl Rising film, to expand the screenings, and plan to invite clients, potential clients, and our alumni to some of our upcoming events to provide our people with opportunities to network further with clients, talk about our clients’ mutual interests in the youth education arena and collectively make a larger impact on the education of girls both domestically and globally.”
Leslie Bowrin, Head Social Performance at BG Trinidad & Tobago Ltd., has begun to employ similar persuasive tactics to further his programs. In order to gain greater support throughout the organization, he better aligned his goals with those of the business, couching projects and issues in the language that reflected the results-driven culture of his industry. “BG Group, prides itself on safety, on working as one team, and on flawless execution,” said Bowen. “Framing our commitments to our communities of operation and to the preservation of the environment to position our corporate citizenship program attracted attention and got buy-in— both vertically and horizontally.”
Understanding organizational culture and becoming equipped with the tools to influence it gives professionals the confidence to emerge as respected leaders of not only their department, but of their company and the communities they serve, ready to spearhead and steer corporate citizenship efforts. Sometimes, stepping into that role involves making difficult decisions.
Bridget Hurd, director of community responsibility at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, learned that in order to assert herself as a compelling authority, she had to remove herself from more routine duties in the community, take control of her team, and accomplish goals through the actions of others. While she missed her time in the field, her role as a strategic advisor in her company demanded that she evaluate and augment her team to increase the reach of planned initiatives.
Hurd said, “I have developed a clear understanding that my role is to be strategic, direct team members, influence others, and be recognized as an expert in the company. During the past several months, I have transitioned from being a change agent—being hands-on with the execution of programs and projects—to working through others and performance managing team members.” Now that Hurd is developing her team, she can begin the process of building a company-wide coalition of support to generate awareness and action. This makes her better equipped to tackle her main objective: addressing health disparities in Michigan.
Creating a productive team that drives social change sometimes involves relinquishing control of minor tasks in order to manage program goals and outcomes. “My focus has traditionally been on planning and execution, inclusive management of my team, and efficient use of resources,” said Bowrin. “Having successfully achieved these objectives, I sought to break out of the technical managerial role to one of effective leadership that combines visioning, anticipating, creating new ideas, raising the bar on performance and developing my subordinates. I have also sought to increase my influence in the community and continue on that journey.”
Successful corporate citizenship programs are built on organizational support, strong leadership, and engaged teams that turn aspirations into reality, but even with this solid foundation, unexpected challenges will continue to arise. Thankfully, the Leadership Academy provides a unique opportunity that fosters networking and encourages collaboration with other players in the corporate citizenship field. Participants forge trusted relationships that continue to benefit them throughout their careers, and serve as a conduit for continual innovation, insight, and feedback.
“I feel I’ve made some tremendous connections with people from some remarkable organizations,” said Haupt. “We are all chasing similar goals – making a difference.”